Tag Archives: embodiment

Your body trusts your brain. Even if your brain is wrong.

A paraphrase of something one of my physical theater teachers said today, as best as I can remember it:

Your body trusts your brain completely. This is why, if you’re in bed at night and you start thinking about something scary, your heart beats faster. Even if that scary thing is only a lie in your brain, not a fact in the real world. Your body can’t tell the difference between truth and lies.

Basically: If you think you’re no good, your brain tells your body that, and your body closes up a little. Then your brain gets the message that your body has closed up a little and thinks, “This is PROOF that I am no good!” and then your body closes up as a matter of course.

This is why, as Paola and physical therapists and even my pastor’s wife have all told me, your history is written on your body. Your body remembers your physical injuries, yes, but it also remembers your hurt feelings and disappointments and anger and grief.

In this fabulous TED talk that you should watch in its entirety,* Harvard professor Amy Cuddy shares her research on the effect of “power posing” not only on how people are perceived but also on their testosterone and cortisol levels. (Basically, standing like Wonder Woman for two minutes at a time chemically raises your confidence and lowers your stress.) She argues that when you “fake it till you make it” you actually fake it till you become it.

Cuddy says this:

It’s not about the content of the speech. It’s about the presence that they’re bringing to the speech. … They bring their ideas, but as themselves, with no residue over them.

So your thought patterns shape your body language, your body language affects your hormones, your hormones impact your emotions, and your emotions feed into your thought patterns. It’s an endless body-to-thoughts-to-body feedback loop.

The goal of the class is not therapy. Paola has made it clear that she has no interest in how we’re doing emotionally in the outside world. But to be a strong performer, you must have confidence and presence. Our goal is to work out the places in our bodies that hold tension; it’s a constant fight to stay alive in neutral, to get rid of that distracting residue Cuddy talks about.

I’m not sure if it matters where in the loop you start, but for me, it’s easiest to start with my body. If I start with my thoughts, I’m stuck; I’m too good at talking myself out of things. If I start with my body, with things my instructors can see, then they can help. My brain isn’t trustworthy enough on its own.


*Watching this video has my husband “power posing” at random in our apartment. It is the best.